On paper, a cross over between the Mario world, the Rabbids characters and an XCOM style game sounds pretty terrible but all doubts I had were washed away with that first trailer. It looked like Ubisoft might just be able to pull this off.
Rather than just a crossover of worlds for the sake of it, there is a story behind how Mushroom Kingdom got invaded by rabbids and it is isn’t your typical every day occurrence. We join a young Mario fan who just happens to be a rather talented inventor. The Kids’ latest creation is the SupaMerge helmet which can merge any two objects into a single entity and may just solve an energy crisis. The QA testing doesn’t go so well and there is an overheating issue so it was time to take a break. During this break the rabbids appear courtesy of their time travelling washing machine and naturally all hell breaks loose. It is a nice day in Mushroom Kingdom with a statue unveiling and then the rabbids arrive and things might never be the same again.
A great deal of care and attention has gone into this game to merge the crazy world of the rabbids with the Mushroom Kingdom. It is positively overflowing with charm and character with rabbids emulating the Mario character counterparts. There are a lot of puzzled faces on the Mario gang but there was nothing but big grins on my face. Graphically the game looks a treat as well.
Mario and his crew, including new rabbid recruits, somehow get themselves armed and decide to clean things up. Mario is joined by 2 other team mates and you take turns to move each character and choose offensive and defensive options. Once you are out of moves or feel like you are ready it is over to the AI to do make their moves. The loser is the team with no members left standing.
The view point is isometric like it was in Super Mario 3D World. Remove the guns, the rabbids and their chaos and you could very well be in one of those 3D World levels. There is a nice introduction to explain the basic moves. Each character has a certain area in which they can move. If you choose to stop at another character then they will propel you into the air which allows you to cover more ground. When controlling Mario you can combine that with a head stomp onto an enemy. There is also a rather handy attack when you are moving. If an enemy is in range then you can essentially slide tackle them and then run off to your desired location.
Each character has a main gun and a secondary weapon but can only use one of them per turn. There are a variety of weapons all with varying levels of damage they can inflict and different ranges. Some of them even come with friendly fire and you can end up doing as much damage to a team mate as you can the enemy.
A special effect can randomly come into play when you fire your weapon. This will depend on the weapon but some coat the enemy in honey which restricts their movements. The push effect will shove the enemies back which can lead to bonus damage if they go off the edge of the world. The fire damage is a little more risky as the characters will amusingly run around on fire but will spread that fire to any character they touch and that includes your own team. Other effects include ink, ice and stone with stone being by far the most restrictive.
Each character also has a unique set of special moves to complement the battle. There are 2 moves per character but you can only use one at a time and they take a few turns to replenish. We have shields and counter attacks and health replenishing to consider but the most effective ones are the ones that can be shared with nearby characters. For instance, Mario can give a damage boost to nearby characters so you might want to do that before you start moving characters about.
There is cover to be found in each level. Some of it is full protection but some of it offers only a 50% chance of avoiding a hit. Some of the cover is indestructible whereas a lot of it isn’t quite so strong so it may only take one more hit. There are different elevations and striking from above deals a stronger damage. And being a Mario game, there are plenty of pipes to use to get about and increase the distance you can move.
There is a lot to consider for each move but get your tactics right and it can be very satisfying. Of course, you need to consider that the enemies have access to all the same moves and weapons and specials that your characters do so you can be punished heavily for a mistake.
You can survey the place before you move to get an idea of where enemies are, where the best cover or attacking points may be and generally to plan ahead. Nintendo fans who have played the excellent Advance Wars series will be right at home with all of this. Predicting the enemy movements is a little harder to do with all the specials however.
There is a wide variety of enemies to deal with and all with different strength and attacking abilities. Some of the bigger boys can cause some trouble, especially when they come in numbers or there are a few normal sized enemies about. One type of enemy moves when you land an attack so you have to take into account the fact they will move towards you during your move and then again in their move. And they deal a lot of damage. Others have a shield so can only be hit from the side or behind. There are mini bosses and full bosses all of which introduce unique elements to deal with. My favourite boss was the opera singer. It took me a long time to beat him but who can really get annoyed at getting beat by a boss who sings for you? There are also chain chomps and boo ghosts to contend with. These don’t take side so can work in your favour or against you. The chomps will much whereas the ghosts will follow and then teleport a captured character to another location.
The game is loaded with little touches which I always like to see. Rabbid Peach likes her selfies but seems rather moody and storms off if you lose a level and throws the crown and wig back at the rest of the team. If a shot is being lined up past a character you may see a character in front ducking down. You will also see characters behind cover pressing against it as an attack comes in and some of the big chaps will put their hands up in a submissive way if you aim at them. The rabbid infusion into Mushroom Kingdom is good too with my personal favourite being the Banzai Bill caught in a giant pair of underpants.
There are 4 worlds to the game but it isn’t a simple case of starting each level; the journey to each level is a game in itself. There are items to be found, puzzles to be solved and gold and red coins to collect. Some of these puzzles are just so you can get to the next level. There are also challenges to be completed in each world. And then there are hidden levels to find within each world.
The gold coins can be used to buy bigger and better weapons for each character. As you progress you will unlock more characters and you can assemble the team and their weapons suitable for the level ahead. There are also orbs which can be used to power up the characters and their move set. There is a handy reset option if you would prefer to focus on a different area for a troublesome level.
Mario + Rabbids is deeper than it looks and any concerns about the amount of content can be laid to rest right away. The game looks a treat, is full of charm and amusing touches and the combat is very satisfying. It has rapidly become one of my all-time favourite games and that is not something I say lightly.